February 27, 2007

An "archaeology" of penitential violet

In our Roman Catholic heritage the color we use for the season of Lent has the Latin name violaceus-- "violet" (though in English some use the word "purple").

Liturgical violaceus is a blend between red and blue, but one that leans in the direction of red.

If the blend leans instead in the direction of blue, it's moving toward the splendor of ancient royal purple, rather than the ancient penitential violet.

Ancient royal purple was a color, a fabric dye, that was so costly to produce that it was reserved for royalty.

So, if you make or buy vestments for Lent, be sure to go penitential rather than royal.


Blogger 4HisChurch said...

Is the bluish purple more for Advent?

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things Father:

1) thank you for re-iterating the colour of the season, so many places and people don't like the idea of repentance.

2) My wonderful ex-wife (sorry, but I was a total creep! We're working on reparation of our relationship, and we were annuled by the church--we're not married to anybody anyway. Plus we still love each other very much and it's a blessing from God that we do!) likes to make silk screen T-shirts. I keep repeating a phrase that I have been led to believe originates with you:

Catholici Sum
Peccate Futile
Bapizare Paratus

If you did originate this, is it copyrighted, or can we use it for T-shirts? If it is copyrighted, how do we get permission to use it?

Thank you,

Mitch Smith

6:52 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The American bishops have suggested the use of the "bluish purple" for Advent. However, the authentic Catholic tradition is that Advent uses the same color as Lent.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The correct Latin phrase that I coined is as follows.



I published it on the internet last year.

One online format is visible at:

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

This post seems appropriate for Viking fans.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not sure you are right about imperial purple being bluer than Roman purple, it is this colour that is used for "Imperial Manuscripts" of Constantinople, for example.
The bluer kind is easier to produce using a dye high in indigo, normally mixed with or dyed over vermillion. It is the colour that you suggest, that before coal based dies, was produced from "whelk blood", after a lengthy and smelly fermentation process.
I presume this is why the bluer form tends to dominate older sacristy's drawers, because it was considerably cheaper.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Fr. Ray, as you point out, cheaper substitutes often took the place of the authentic colors.

Here are photographs of authentic Tyrian ("bluish-leaning") purple ("royal purple") produced from the shells of sea mollusks.

Generally the authentic production of this ancient dye was discontinued by A.D. 900.

One instance in which liturgical ("reddish-leaning") violaceus has been somewhat maintained is in the color of a bishop's cassock and zucchetto.

The challenge of using the English names for the liturgical colors is that "violet" tends to connote bluish. We even have the saying, "Roses are red, violets are blue."

1:23 PM  

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